Marshall football: Cato named C-USA offensive player of the year
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Conference USA football coaches once again put East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden ahead of Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato on Wednesday, but Cato didn't finish the day without another trophy for his case.
Carden, who was named all-C-USA first team quarterback over Cato on Tuesday, was named the conference's most valuable player on Wednesday. Cato, named league MVP in 2012, was named offensive player of the year this season as he guided the Thundering Herd to a 9-4 record and a Military Bowl berth.
Cato wasn't the only Herd player rewarded. Freshman defensive back Corey Tindal shared the conference freshman of the year award with Tulane linebacker Nico Marley. This is the second straight year a Marshall freshman earned at least a share of the trophy.
In 13 games this season, Cato - last season's conference MVP - has thrown a conference-best 36 touchdowns, which also ranks third in the Football Bowl Subdivision and is the fourth best single-season total in Herd history. He's completed 270 of 455 passes for 3,579 yards and also run for 279 yards and six touchdowns.
"I'm just going out there and just giving my all," Cato said last week. "I'm just going out there and playing my best football that I can possibly play and just lay everything out on the line.
"Like I told some of those guys during my captain's speech, in order for us to go down, they have to kill me out there," he added. "I'm not thinking about a tackle or anything. I'm going out there lion-hearted."
There was a point early in the year where it looked like Carden would run away with the MVP award, but Cato tore through the second half of the season to pull into contention. After falling to 4-3 after a 51-49 loss to Middle Tennessee, Cato led the Herd to five consecutive wins, including a 59-28 East Division-clinching win over ECU. Over those five games, Cato averaged 301.4 passing yards and threw 19 touchdowns against just two interceptions.
When Cato went head-to-head versus Carden, Cato threw for 272 yards, two touchdowns and an interception on 17-of-28 passing. Carden went without a passing touchdown for just the second time in his ECU career, throwing for 291 yards and three interceptions on 29-of-52 passing.
"It doesn't take Cato a whole lot to get excited about competing," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said earlier this season.
"That's just him. He'll be out there today in practice competing as hard as he can because that's the mindset he brings. I think Cato is a better quarterback this year than he was a year ago. Our offense is much more productive than it was a year ago. He's become a more complete and better quarterback."
Tindal posted 55 tackles, five for a loss, with six pass breakups and two fumble recoveries. With him in the lineup, the Herd vaulted from the bottom of the FBS defensive rankings to near the top. He was named to the conference all-freshman team and earned honorable mention on the all-C-USA team.
"It's a great feeling just to be part of a team and contributing toward a win," Tindal said last week. "There's no better feeling than that. It's just awesome."
Marshall running back Kevin Grooms won the freshman of the year award outright in 2012.
Cato and Tindal's honors were the fifth and sixth individual awards Marshall has won in Conference USA. On top of Marshall's 2012 awards, former defensive end Vinny Curry was named the 2011 defensive player of the year, while former defensive lineman Albert McClellan shared the 2006 defensive player of the year award with Tulsa linebacker Nick Bunting.
Tulsa linebacker Shawn Jackson was named 2013 defensive player of the year, while North Texas return specialist Brelan Chancellor was named special teams player of the year and Florida Atlantic sophomore quarterback Jaquez Johnson was named newcomer of the year. David Bailiff, who led Rice to a C-USA title game win over Marshall and a berth in the Liberty Bowl, was named conference coach of the year.
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.